How to become an awesome designer in 365 days

One of the old saying that motivate me is “Practice makes perfect”. Proverbs can be a bit of a cliché, but in some cases they can be true. I am a workaholic by nature, which obviously has its good and bad sides. One of the good sides is that I can’t stand still, and just do nothing all day long. On the other side, working without rest and a clear goal can often be demotivating, not to mention exhausting. That’s why I decided to trust the good old saying and try to improve myself.

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Being a great designer is a big challenge. Becoming a renowned and acknowledged designer is an even bigger one. In the field of digital design there are so many sub-specialties, with a range of diverse designers who have, all in their own unique way, made a name for themselves..Some are great web designers, others great UI designers while some focus on animation and so on. How does one find herself in this large group of successful people, and what’s more frightening, how to succeed in such a competitive environment?

The answer to this question is: work, work and only work. Talent helps, of course. But it’s the persistence and hard work that often separate the good designers from the great ones.

What I’m about to share is my story, about how I started my journey, about personal and professional growth.

This illustration is the first step in my Dribbble journey.
This illustration is the first step in my Dribbble journey.

Practice

A clear advantage of working in a creative and renowned digital agency is that the environment is making you improve at every step of the way. Your colleagues are experts in their own respective fields, and the last thing you want is fall behind. The competitive surrounding acts as an extremely positive stimulant.

I wanted to belong to this group of excellent people. I knew that I needed to further develop my creativity and advance as a designer.

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Working_Late
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The first thing that came to mind was training. When I go to the gym, I often see athletes training day after day, improving their agility, strength and reflexes. It’s the same with musicians. They practice their compositions until they can play them by heart. By practicing in a diverse matter we are learning how to do new things, new moves. Our brain develops new synaptic pathways, and we start to see problems in a different light. In other words – we are developing our creativity.

“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”
Vince Lombardi

Challenge

Having the motivation to do something is also crucial if you want to grow and develop. I needed a problem challenging enough to make me outperform myself. I also needed to imagine a clear goal at the end. When designing apps, you pretty much know what to expect from the final product. A lot of fine details need to be resolved and perfected along the way, but you have a pretty clear goal. In my case, this meant I needed to come up with a challenging design project.

First published illustration.
First published illustration.

Thus, icon-a-day.com was born.
The initial idea was to create a simple icon every day for a year, using only Adobe Illustrator as a tool. The concept was clear: a circle in which I’ll put an icon..The range of illustrations is very diverse. I have to admit that in the beginning I wasn’t quite sure where this would lead me. But the main goal was to perfect myself in digital illustration. I wanted to explore several styles, make different illustrations. I explored my abilities (and I’m still exploring them).

Since the project started, it almost had a life of its own. Creating the icons became my second nature, much like brushing my teeth every morning.
While the initial idea were simple icons, as time went by they grew into full blown illustrations.

Original Image Sketch

Modified Image Finished Illustration

Explore your possibilities

Naturally, working on such a project in your spare time brings along a number of challenges. The biggest challenge for me is finding the time. Having a nine to five job, you realize that time is really limited. Your day can be overwhelmed with personal or professional obligations. It’s hard to really give everything you got to your project alone.

One of the pitfalls of a long term project is loss of motivation and the inevitable dwindling of quality. The key to this is to always stay focused on the goal ahead — deliver an icon at the end of each day, no matter what.

Staying consistent through the duration of the project can be a challenge as well. I started with simple icons, but as I progressed I explored new techniques using shadows, filters, lense flares, etc…

Here is the example of the progress I’ve made from the beginning until now:

Day 3
Day 3
Day 25
Day 25
Day 111
Day 111
Day 168
Day 168
Day 214
Day 214
Day 286
Day 286

Commitment

You need to stay committed to your work. It can be hard to find the motivation to go on with the project every single day. I realized that self-promotion helps in this task. Putting your work on social networks like Tumblr, Twitter, Behance and Dribbble can bring you a wider audience. Gaining recognition from people will form a commitment to keep on delivering.

I started a Tumblr blog where I post my icons every day. It also allowed me to easily monitor my progress during these 365 days, and also it’s a good way to show my work to others. Besides Tumblr, the illustrations that I think are of higher quality will end up on Dribbble, which is a more designer oriented community. By putting your work online, you get a certain follower base, and your credibility as a designer grows as well.

If I would skip one day, that would be an excuse to skip another and so on. Be committed to your work, and it will pay off.

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Getting support from friends

Running a spare-time project brings the risk of neglecting your friends. Don’t fall into the trap. Friends are a big part in your progress. You need to surround yourself with people who will encourage your work. People who will see the value in your project, and who will be around you to give you advice when you stumble on a creative block – and trust me, there will be days when those blocks will happen.

No matter how good you are at your work, there are times when you run into an obstacle that you cannot cross. This is where your friends and colleagues show their importance. They can show/offer you a new perspective on things, a valid advice to cross the obstacle on your way forward.

Although my project is time consuming, I haven’t lost any friends because of it. Quite the opposite, I’ve made some new ones along the way, especially in the designer community.

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Benefits

It may seem that you cannot get more than personal growth out of your project. You’ll be surprised what can happen because you started something. Besides finding your creativity, that could have been dormant all this time, there are other things that can happen on your way to achieve your personal goal.

In my case I’ve become better at illustrating, I’ve learned to animate my icons (which was a little project on the side that my colleagues helped me with), I’ve met a lot of new creative people, and opened many doors to the designer community. The project turned out to have a good commercial aspect: people liked the illustrations so they wanted to buy rights to reproduce them, or hire me to do some illustrations for them. I also started selling my icons on Society6, where you can find them on various household items like mugs, clocks and bed covers.

All this resulted in a confidence boost as well. The benefits of such a project outnumber the small negative things that can happen along the way.

End of the long journey

If someone told me a year ago, that I’ll create a different illustration every day I’d probably wouldn’t believe them. I wasn’t aware how much progress I can make in such a small period of time.

A colleague from work asked me: what will you do after you finish your 365th icon?
Honestly? I don’t know. I’ll probably find myself another goal, a new challenge that will make me even better, in a new field of digital design.

What I can say with certainty is that the icon-a-day project was a great success, and I recommend to everyone to start their own project. Life is a continuous learning process, and these kinds of goals help us push our own limits, which makes us grow – as professionals and as individuals.